May 18, 2023

How big is your company’s fear budget?


You can’t be in execution mode and fear mode at the same time.

These two gears cancel each other out, like pressing down on the gas and the brake pedal at the same time. Your car sits just there in the driveway, spinning its wheels, going nowhere.

I once worked for a woman who did this. The closer our team would get to shipping something, the greater her paranoia would grow. There was always another fear that would thwart us from offering our value to the multitudes.

What if we get sued? What if one of ours competitors steals the idea? What if these meta tags have typos and the search engines don’t index our content? What if a customer reads this and interprets it negatively? What if a media outlet gives our product a scathing review?

Yes, she was right in that any of those things could happen to us.

But the probability was very low.

And even if something did happen, we’d figure out how to respond appropriately. Our company wouldn’t go under.

In these moments, my opinion was always the same.

There is no reason to let this minuscule probability of a negative outcome stop us from moving forward today. Can we please not have all your fear floating around us like a heavy smog?

I tried to make my case. I tried to make her feel heard while also saying, there is a time and a place to respond to threats and preserve assets. Launch day is not it. It’s too late for fear now. We’re past the point of no return. Our bias is on output. Our focus is on expanding. It’s execution time.

Have you ever worked with someone whose paranoia was blown out of proportion? Someone who walked around feeling generally and ambiguously threatened?

It’s exhausting and stifling. And what’s annoying, people only have to be right every once in a while to justify living in fear. They only need the occasional negative outcome to give them license to say, wait, remember that one time a bad thing happened to us?

Demello’s book of spiritual meditations puts it most eloquently:

The more you live with this distorted version, the more you become convinced that it is the only true picture of the world. Your attachments and fears continue to process incoming data in a way that will reinforce your picture. In my experience, it’s more useful to believe that opportunity is all around us, rather than to spot conspiracies at every corner. Most of our fears, we don’t need to have them in our minds, and the people around us don’t need to have them in theirs.

It’s funny, organizations will spend millions of dollars each year on productivity tools, but how many of them have a fear budget? Where is the line item in the balance sheet for teaching employees how be less paranoid?

This sounds like another one of my kooky ideas that wouldn’t go over well at the investor’s meeting.

But then again, I’d rather have bad ideas than be scared about not having any good ones.

What is thwarting your team from offering its value to the multitudes?